Rejection—it’s a nasty word. No one likes feeling rejected. In fact, most of us will go to extreme lengths to be on the “in” crowd.
I have a “dumb phone.” It flips open, has actual, rubber keys, and no matter how hard you press, the screen won’t respond to touch. And I like it that way. But when I’m sitting around the table with three or four of my friends tapping away on their smartphones, I feel a twinge of rejection. I’m on the outside, and my “dumb phone” and I don’t like it.
A commercial by Ikea aired a while ago, in which a woman places a red lamp on the street corner as sad music plays. Then the camera shifts to the perspective of the forlorn lamp just in time to watch the woman place a new lamp in the rejected lamp’s spot. As we’re feeling pity, the narrator walks on and says, “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That is because you are crazy. It has no feelings, and the new one is much better.”
We dislike rejection so much, we’ll even feel bad for a lamp.
When it comes to inanimate objects, that dislike may be comical. But we stop laughing when we are the ones being rejected. It’s no different with Christianity. Like the old lamp, following Jesus is not generally accepted in our culture because our King stands in direct opposition to the culture’s demands.
The culture says, “Me first.”
The King says, “Me? Who’s ‘me’?”
The culture says, “Sex always!”
The King says, “Sex in marriage to glorify God.”
The culture says, “Life only so long as it doesn’t inconvenience me.”
The King says, “All life is sacred.”
The culture says, “Don’t get caught.”
The King says, “Don’t even do it.”
The list could go on, but the point remains the same: The life of a Jesus-follower has nothing in common with culture.
At one time it did, but today that’s no longer the case. Culture has shoved the ethics and morality of the Jesus-follower away from center to the fringe.
Jesus-followers are the “dumb phones” in our society. The Kingdom of God is strange and alien. And popular Christianity doesn’t like it. It attempts to compensate for the alien message of Jesus by prioritizing “coolness” and “relevance.”
Our “worship music” looks and sounds like a poor imitation of the culture’s music. “Hip” services have more in common with rock concerts than with the underground meetings found in the book of Acts. Pastors dress trendy, trying to appear relaxed and casual—hardly deserving of the title “reverend.” Churches offer donuts and coffee to entice their congregants away from Starbucks. During the service, some congregations can project tweets behind the pastor. In order to fill seats, churches will bring in celebrities, singers, or sports stars to speak from the pulpit.
Sunday after Sunday, it screams to the culture, “Please don’t reject us! We can be just like you! See? We use iPads instead of hymnals!” And our culture? It laughs at us.
You see, our culture recognizes something the church refuses to accept: to make Jesus “cool” destroys the power of the Gospel. The book of James says this very thing:
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
If the church is going to survive in the United States, we have to accept life on the fringe. We have to accept that the culture has rejected us. We have to get comfortable with a life on the street in the rain. And we need to stop trying to be “cool” and “relevant.”
Let us live like our King, Jesus, who forsook the pleasures of the world to live in obedience to God. Let us accept that our culture hates the ethics of the Kingdom of God.
- When we hold every life sacred, they call us haters of women’s rights.
- When we save sex for marriage, they call us haters of sexual freedom.
- When we call individuals out of sinful lifestyles, they call us haters of people.
- When we call the poor to earn a living, they call us haters of the disenfranchised.
- When we teach the truth of the Bible, they call us old-fashioned bigots.
And that’s okay. We need to stop wasting our energy trying to convince the culture that we’re cool, or trying to force the culture to put Christian morals back at its center. It’s never going to happen, and God never commanded us to reclaim worldly culture.
We need to learn to live on the fringe instead. Let us embrace the alien message of the Kingdom of God, and call people out of society’s self-destructive culture. Instead of adopting culture and covering it with Jesus-colored paint, let us build our churches around the commands of Jesus.
Finally, we need to prepare for the culture’s retaliation. The kingdom of this world hates the Kingdom of God. We need thick skins, strong hearts, and determined minds. After all, that’s what Jesus called us to:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:18–20)
Let’s leave culture behind, and join our King on the fringe.